Cotner-Bevington Company History
Oldsmobile Division provided unfinished Dynamic 88s
Cotner-Bevington Corporation of Blytheville, Arkansas (formerly
Coach Company). Cotner-Bevington stretched the wheelbase to 150
and finished them as Cotington models for the funeral and ambulance
Despite being Dynamic 88s, they were trimmed on the outside as
Cotner-Bevington also offered Seville models - a line
of compact coaches.
Sevilles were based on unfinished Dynamic 88 Celebrity Sedans.
featured a standard wheelbase and had significantly less standard
Wayne Corporation was a large manufacturer of buses
and other vehicles branded with the trade name "Wayne."
The corporate headquarters were in Richmond, Indiana, in Wayne
County, Indiana, in the United States. Wayne became a leading
producer of school buses in the North America.
Wayne is a name in school transportation that predates
the familiar yellow school bus seen all over the USA and Canada.
Beginning in the 19th century, craftsmen in Richmond, Indiana
at Wayne Works and its successors built horse-drawn vehicles,
including kid hacks, evolving into automobiles and virtually
all types of bus bodies during the 20th century. Wayne products
eventually included school buses, transit buses, highway coaches,
military and shuttle buses, ambulances and even huge bus bodies
pulled by tractor trailers used to haul oil field workers in
the Middle East.
Among many innovations, Wayne pioneered the guard
rails on the sides of all school buses today, inboard wheelchair
lifts, and even high-headroom doors (a special accommodation
for mobility-challenged persons requiring head and neck support
from above). The company was first with a school bus based upon
a cutaway van chassis, the Wayne Busette, a practical chassis
design which more than 30 years later remains one of the more
popular in use in the U.S. and Canadian markets. The crowning
safety achievement was the Wayne Lifeguard structural design
introduced in 1973, which featured continuous interior and exterior
longitudinal panels. Lifeguard design helped pave the way for
the all-important U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards
(FMVSS) for school buses, most of which became applicable on
April 1, 1977. In the years after, Wayne continued to be a leader
in bus safety engineering.
Wayne went through many owners. During the second
half of the 20th century, the business underwent periods under
Divco-Wayne, Boise Cascade, Indian Head, and Thyssen-Bornemisza
conglomerate ownership, and moved to a greatly expanded facility
adjacent to Interstate 70 in 1967, where it became a familiar
landmark to millions of travelers. After encountering a difficult
market cycle and industry downturn due to over-capacity beginning
in the early 1980s, Wayne Corporation finally closed up and went
out-of-business in 1992. Several efforts to continue to utilize
portions of the assets and build school buses ended in 2000.
As of 2006, thousands of Wayne buses remained in service,
although the numbers are dwindling each year as new buses replace
them in school and commercial operations. Some have been converted
to motor homes and other uses. The former Wayne Corporation property
along Interstate 70 is becoming reutilized for a number of retail
and industrial enterprises.
After starting out as Wayne Agricultural Works in
Union City, Indiana in the mid 19th century, all manufacturing
was centralized at Richmond, Indiana. It is important to note
that most bus bodies consisted of in-house manufactured parts
and purchased components manufactured by others, combined into
bus bodies in assembly operations. Thus, the major two functions
of the Richmond, Indiana plant were manufacturing of parts, and
Wayne bus bodies were also assembled at multiple locations
of truck body dealers around the US and at a Canadian assembly
plant, Welles, Ltd. in Windsor, Ontario. Kits were also shipped
overseas even after all North American assembly was eventually
centralized in Richmond, Indiana and Windsor,Ontario in the early
Horse-drawn "kid hack", automobiles Wayne's
predecessor, Wayne Works, was founded in the United States of
America in 1837. Wayne Works began by making horse-drawn vehicles.
By 1886, and possibly earlier, it is known that Wayne Works was
making horse-drawn school carriages which many people referred
to as "school hacks," "school cars," "school
trucks," or "kid hacks."
Beginning in the early 1930s through the 1940s, several
automobile designers and manufacturers were located in Richmond.
Among the automobiles manufactured there was the "Richmond"
which was built by the Wayne Works, the "Rodefeld",
and the Crosley.
The Wayne County Historical Museum in Richmond, Indiana
has a 1907 Richmond on display, along with horse-drawn "kid
hack" also manufactured by the Wayne Works.
Motorized kid hack: a predecessor to the motor school
bus. According to several sources, in 1914 Wayne Works mounted
a wooden kid hack onto an automobile chassis, creating a predecessor
to the modern motor school bus. In the bodies for school transportation
the company produced through this era, passengers sat on perimeter
seating, facing the sides rather than the front of the bus. Entry
and egress was through a door at the rear, a design begun in
non-motorized days to help avoiding starting the horses. This
was possibly a precursor to the rear emergency door commonly
found on modern school buses.
All-steel bodies, guard rails, transit-style chassis.
By 1927, Wayne Works was building all-steel bus bodies. In the
following few years, the school bus bodies began to include a
group of heavy-duty "collision rails" or "guard
rails" as an added safety feature.
Wayne Works was one of the earliest school bus companies
to offer glass in place of the standard canvas curtains in the
passenger area, long before many "school" bus companies
did in the early 1930s.
Also in the 1930s, Wayne Works manufactured some transit-style
school buses, that is types with a more or less flat front-end
design. However, the "conventional" design, with a
truck type hood and front-end (known as type C on modern school
buses) was to continue to be Wayne's main school bus design until
production ended in 1992.
Father of the Yellow School Bus. Most Wayne school
buses turned the now familiar yellow in 1939. In April of that
year, Frank W. Cyr, a professor at Teachers College, Columbia
University in New York City who became known as the "Father
of the Yellow School Bus," organized a conference that established
national school-bus construction standards, including the standard
color of yellow for the school bus. It became known officially
as "National School Bus Chrome," and informally as
"school bus yellow". The color was selected because
black letter on that hue was easiest to see in the semi-darkness
of early morning and late afternoon.
The conference met for seven days and the attendees
created a total of 44 standards, including specifications regarding
body length, ceiling height and aisle width. Cyr's conference,
funded by a $5,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, was
also a landmark event inasmuch as it included transportation
officials from each of the then 48 states, as well as specialists
from school-bus manufacturing and paint companies. The conference
approach to school bus safety, as well as the yellow color, has
endured into the 21st century.
World War II - wooden bodies and trailer buses. Wayne
Works advertisement from 1944 near the end of World War II.During
World War II, steel production was rationed for the war effort.
Automobile production in the United States virtually ceased.
Wayne Works reverted to building some bodies with
wooden components. The company developed trailer-type bodies
for military use which could transport up to 150 passengers,
pulled by a truck. Thousands of military ambulance bodies were
also produced. The company also did some reconstruction older
buses and trucks to extend their lives during the war years.
In 1944, as the end of World War II approached, Wayne
returned to building all-steel bodies.
Early traffic warning lights, stop arms. Most states
had a law requiring motorists to stop for school buses while
children were loading or unloading. The standardized yellow color
of the school bus helped. Warning lettering was painted in large
black letters on school buses. Despite these efforts, many tragic
accidents occurred when traffic was not aware that the hazard
existed, and children on foot were struck by other vehicles.
Several devices were under development to help school bus drivers
warn other motorists.
Around 1946, one of the early (and possibly the first)
systems of alternating traffic warning lights on school buses
was used in Virginia. In those days before plastic lens technology
had advanced, and transistors had yet to be invented, an alternating
system was created by using sealed beam headlight bulbs with
the lenses colored red, and a mechanical motor and solenoids
to alternate the high and low beam filaments in the single bulb
fixtures mounted at the front and rear of the bus. School children
and drivers were subjected to a loud tick-tock noise from the
flasher motor as it was operating. Activation was through a mechanical
switch attached to the door control.
Around this time, some states began specifying a mechanical
stop arm which the driver could activate to swing out from the
left side of the bus to warn traffic. These had a sign bearing
a warning message.
In later years, flashing lights were added to the
stop arms, mechanical flasher devices were replaced by electronic
ones, and the front and rear warning lights were increased from
two to four and eventually eight (in most states). Plastic lenses
were developed in the 1950s which offered greater visibility
and significantly lower costs than the early systems which used
colored headlight bulbs. Strobe and LED technologies were still
in the future as big changes took place at the Wayne Works.
Welles: Canadian bus assembly. Welles Corporation
in Windsor, Ontario, was named for Halsey V. Welles who founded
H. V. Welles Ltd. in 1925. Assembly of Wayne buses began there
Wayne Works begins to diversify through acquisitions.
Wayne Works began to diversify through acquisitions in the mid
The company purchased Meteor Motor Car Company in
Piqua, Ohio in 1954. Meteor built professional cars, such as
limousines and ambulances.
Two years later, in 1956, Wayne acquired A.J. Miller's
professional car building company of Bellefontaine, Ohio. The
A.J. Miller Company had begun in 1853 by making horse carriages
and then started making automobiles in the early part of the
20th century. However, the small company found it could not compete
with the larger automobile makers, so they began specializing
in hearses and ambulances. Over the years the Miller hearses
became known and used throughout the world.
The Miller Co. was combined with Wayne's existing
professional car subsidiary, Meteor Motor Car Company, forming
the new Miller-Meteor (M-M) division of Wayne. The 2 companies
competed in 1956, but were doing business as a combination by
Divco-Wayne Corporation 1957-1968. In 1957, under
the leadership of Newton Glekel, Divco Corporation bought the
Wayne Works, a school bus builder in Richmond, Indiana, and renamed
itself, Divco-Wayne Corporation. Divco-Wayne, also known as D-W,
was a conglomerate involved in the manufacturing of trucks, school
buses, hearses, ambulances and mobile homes, and apparently also
had had an electronics section involved in aerospace technology.
Divco bodies were combined with Wayne seating to make
this type of bus between 1958 and 1961.Main article: Divco. Divco
stands for Detroit Industrial Vehicles COmpany. Founded in 1926,
Divco was well-known for its pioneering delivery vehicles, especially
the milk trucks. From 1926 until 1986, Divco produced multi-stop
delivery trucks unlike any others. Only the VW Beetle stayed
in production with the same basic model for a longer period of
Divco trucks have become popular collectible vehicles
today. Divco's rich history (including the time it was part of
Divco-Wayne) has been researched in some depth by the Divco Club
of America, and more information from before and after the corporate
marriage to Wayne beyond the scope of this article can be found
at Divco History.
During the Divco-Wayne era, the truck manufacturing
of Divco-Wayne continued to be through the former Divco portion.
some Divco trucks were modified with seats and windows from the
Wayne Works to produce a Divco Dividend Bus. But very few of
these units were built between 1959 and 1961. Rather, virtually
all bus and ambulance manufacturing was through the Wayne Corporation
portion of Divco-Wayne and subsidiary units Miller-Meteor and
Professional Cars. The professional car (quoted from
a leading trade association) "is loosely defined as a custom-bodied
vehicle, based on passenger car styling, and used in the funeral,
rescue or livery services. Such vehicles may be hearses, flower
cars, service cars, ambulances, limousines, or cars which are
special built to combine two or more of these different functions,
such as combination hearse-ambulances, sedan ambulances or invalid
coaches. These body styles are all hand built. The commercial
chassis and the front and rear clips of these cars are the only
thing they have in common with their factories of origin. The
roof, glass, and doors are all manufactured by expert craftsmen."
Miller-Meteor. Professional Car builders Miller and
Meteor, newly combined as Miller-Meteor, were brought into the
fold of Divco-Wayne as the newly-formed conglomerate was developing
its opportunities in this field. Although the recently combined
Miller-Meteor company was initially based at Bellefontaine, Ohio,
originally the home of the A.M. Miller Company, under Divco-Wayne
ownership, it was later relocated to Piqua, Ohio, Meteor's old
Bosuga Wayne. Advertisement for 1964 Bosuga Wayne
coach bodiesIn 1963 Wayne licensed the Spanish S.A. Bosuga to
build in Barcelona coach bodies based on Wayne's technology and
designs. These were marketed as Bosuga Wayne, and equipped mainly
Pegaso and Barreiros-AEC chassis. The venture did not last long,
since the Spanish market of coach bodies was already crowded.
Cotner-Bevington. Advertisement for 1974 Wayne Care-O-Van
ambulance based upon Busette body.Divco-Wayne acquired Cotner-Bevington
(C-B) in 1964 and it became a subsidiary of Wayne Corporation.
Comet Coach Company was based in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1959,
the coach builder had sold its "Comet" trade name rights
to the Lincoln-Mercury division of Ford Motor Company for use
on Mercury's version of the Ford Falcon. Starting with the 1960
model year the former Comet Coach Co. was called Cotner-Bevington,
named after the company's two founders. They moved from Memphis,
Tennessee a few miles North to Blytheville, Arkansas. C-B stayed
in business through the 1975 model year, building only on Oldsmobile
automobile chassis and truck-based ambulances after about 1964.
Wayne's line of truck-based ambulances ("Sentinel"
Suburbans starting for the 1968 model year, "Vanguard"
Chevrolet vans for 1971, and "Medicruiser" Dodge vans
for 1973) were built in the Blytheville facility. The Sentinel
Suburbans received a headroom increase for 1971, but were only
built through the 1972 model year. After that, the Sentinel brand
name was used on Wayne's line of Type I (pickup chassis) modular
ambulances. Body shells were produced at the Richmond, Indiana
bus plant for Care-O-Van ambulance units, based upon cutaway
chassis and Wayne Busette body.
Manufactured Housing, Electronics, Financial Services.
Divco-Wayne Corporation manufactured housing brands included
Kozy, Elcar, Star, and National. Electronics and aerospace products
were offered through D-W Electronics, in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The Divco-Wayne conglomerate also had a financial
arm, Divco-Wayne Acceptance Corporation, which was also known
as Divco-Wayne Financial, Wayne Acceptance or Financial Corporation
and Wayne Financial Sales Corporation. The financing division
handled customer financing and leasing arrangements as well as
dealer inventory financing for other Divco-Wayne divisions.
Wayne Corporation moves to a new plant. During the
earlier years of Wayne and other school bus body manufacturers,
the factory had manufactured most of the parts used to assemble
a bus body, but it was customary for these to be shipped unassembled
(often by rail) to body dealers at various points around the
United States and Canada, for assembly onto incomplete truck
chassis. Gradually, as highway transportation of completed buses
became more practical, and school bus bodies became more sophisticated,
the assembly of complete bodies onto truck chassis in the United
States and Canada became centralized at locations owned by the
body companies. The companies often continued to ship "kits"
By the mid 1960s, several other body companies (notably
Blue Bird Body Company and Thomas Built Buses, Inc. maintained
assembly plants at multiple locations in the United States.
Instead of establishing multiple assembly points in
the U.S., Wayne chose to replace the overcrowded and aged Wayne
Works facility on "E" street near downtown Richmond
with a single large new plant big enough to handle both manufacturing
and United States assembly. Due primarily to Canadian import
tariffs, the separate Canadian assembly plant (Welles, Ltd.)
had been long-established and was maintained.
In 1967, Wayne Corporation relocated from the former
Wayne Works plant to a new site on Industries Road about 5 miles
northwest of downtown Richmond. The site had over 1/2 mile of
frontage on Interstate 70, and acres of land for storage of truck
chassis and completed buses.
The new plant had fully-modern steel manufacturing
presses, rust-proofing equipment, paint booths, and could handle
assembly lines for all product lines. From 1967 until 1992, travelers
along busy Interstate 70 could view what seemed to be oceans
of yellow school buses outside the massive facility.
Some dealers were also contractors. More than a few
Wayne dealerships were operated by school bus contractors. ARA
Transportation and Laidlaw were the largest. Others included
Bus and Bodies of Plaistow, New Hampshire, Town & Country
Transportation of Warren, Rhode Island, Rohrer of Duncannon,
Pennsylvania, Virginia Overland Transportation of Richmond, Virginia,
and School Bus Services of Shawnee Mission, Kansas. These school
bus contractors, several of whom were also involved in contracting
paratransit services, found having a dealership provided both
a source and an input to product design at Wayne, as well as
a natural outlet for sale of surplus equipment at the end of
Breaking Up Divco-Wayne 1968. In 1967, the Divco-Wayne
conglomerate was sold by Newton Glekel to Boise Cascade, a company
which was primarily seeking the manufactured subsidiaries. Bosie
Cascade resold Wayne and its subsidiaries to Indian Head, Inc.,
another conglomerate. About the same time that Divco-Wayne was
sold to Indian Head, the Divco portion was separated and divested.
Production of Divco products was to continue until 1986.
Indian Head: 1968-1975. Divco-Wayne had formed a union
and had expanded into a moderate sized-conglomerate, with all
facilities basically within 500 miles of Wayne's base at Richmond,
Indiana. In contrast, Indian Head was already a large and diversified
corporate conglomerate when it purchased Wayne Corporation and
its subsidiaries in 1968.
Indian Head's roots were in the textile industry,
which was in decline in the United States in the mid and late
20th century. The owners of Indian Head eventually realized that
they could earn more money doing almost anything else, and basically
said so in testimony before the United States Congress.
Indian Head roots: textiles. In February, 1953, Indian
Head Mills Inc had been formed by James Robison, formerly the
division head with Textron. He purchased Nashua Mfg Co. and the
Indian Head brand name. Nashua became Indian Head Mills Inc.
Robison's credo as CEO become a legend in the business
world. His one basic company policy for Indian Head was that
if both parties didn't benefit from the deal, he didn't want
to do it - "Integrity: play it straight, forthrightly and
honestly; admit mistakes and correct them; we will not Welsh,
weasel, chisel or cheat and we will not be party to any untruths,
half truths or unfair distortions." Under Robison, Indian
Head Mills had greatly expanded the textile lines, primarily
through acquisitions. In 1960, Indian Head Mills was ranked among
the best USA firms.
In 1961, founder Robison took on the US government,
saying cotton mills were getting a raw deal and that the US Congress
should desert the cotton price support program. Robison asserted
that it was costing taxpayers $500/yr each to subsidize cotton
crops, and that the textile industry, one of the largest and
most important in the country, had been seriously weakened through
erosion of capital values, loss of employment, inadequate research,
and the lagging modern growth of synthetic fibers.
Between 1954 and 1962, Indian Head Mills had added
11 established, unrelated specialized companies. In 1962, it
decided to get out of textiles and to get in to just about anything
else where return was higher.
In 1964, it purchased Metal Products & Auto Parts.
In 1965, the company purchased Detroit Gasket & Mfg. Co.
In 1966, it acquired Demco (Detroit Engine & Machine Co.),
Roxboro, Street and Pyramid Mouldings Division.
Finally, in 1966, the word "Mills" was removed
from the corporate name, which became Indian Head Inc. As a conglomerate
its lines now included auto bumpers, power steering parts, licenser's
of Banlon® finishes and panty hose for Fruit of the Loom,
Rudi Gernreich and Pucci. In 1967, Indian Head began buying glass
companies specializing in beverage bottles: It purchased Obear-Nester
Glass, Northwestern Glass, Pierce Glass, Laurens Glass, MGM Brakes
Wayne Corporation: an Indian Head Company. Indian
Head Inc. adopted this new logo during the period it owned Wayne
Corporation.In 1968, Indian Head Inc. acquired Wayne Corp., which
Indian Head history recorded as "maker of school buses,
ambulances, hearses, professional cars" from Divco-Wayne.
The Wayne acquisition included Welles, Ltd, the Canadian bus
assembly plant, Miller-Meteor in Piqua, Ohio, and Cotner-Bevington
in Blytheville, Arkansas.
In 1969, the new Indian head logo and corporate type
face were introduced in the company's Annual Report.
Also in 1969, Indian Head purchased Machinery Corp.
and United Vintners, part of Hublein Co. Inc. There were 18,700
employees, 60 plants (5 glass container companies, 5 metal and
automotive companies, 12 specialty textile firms and the start
of an Information technology division) located in U.S., Canada
and the Netherlands. The multi-industry acquisitions continued.
Papoose: an odd-looking commodity. In the early 1970s,
the principal platform for school buses smaller than conventional
types but with more than 4 wheels was the truck chassis in widespread
use for commercial delivery work: the step van. These were commonly
known as "step vans." Within the school bus body industry,
this type were often called 'P' chassis. In addition to Wayne,
Bluebird, Carpenter, Superior, Thomas, and Ward each developed
school bus bodies based upon 'P' chassis produced by either General
Motors, Ford, or both.
Wayne's body product for the step van chassis was
called the Papoose. The front-end of the design of the Papoose
was designed to afford maximum visibility and use flat glass,
resulting in an appearance which was not aesthetically pleasing.
It was described by some observers as "severe," and
the funny-looking little bus had other nicknames even less kind.
In addition to its unusual appearance, the Wayne Papoose
faced another disadvantage in the Wayne product line. The market
was highly competitive with all five other major school bus body
builders participating, making it a commodity. Wayne's marketers
wanted something more radical to differentiate a small capacity
Wayne product from its competition.
Busette: the first cutaway school bus. By the early
1970s', Chrysler Corporation, Ford Motor Company, and General
Motors were all manufacturing many models of passenger vans.
The Dodge passengers vans of Chrysler had a maximum seating capacity
of 14 persons plus the driver, and came to be commonly known
as 15 passenger vans, joined by similar sized models by the other
manufacturers years later.
Conversions for personal motor homes became very popular,
drawing the interest of recreational vehicle manufacturers.
The so-called "Big 3" (Chrysler, Ford, and
GM) were working on bigger models of their popular light-duty
van products, but intended these chassis solely for use by second
Second stage manufacturers build such products as
bus and truck bodies, motor homes, and other specialized vehicles.
Neither their product, nor the first stage portion, called an
incomplete motor vehicle, are fully-compliant with requirements
for a complete motor vehicle. Neither portion can be licensed
or operated lawfully without the other.
Featuring a van front end and cab design, the body
ended immediately behind the driver and front passenger seats,
and usually was covered by temporary plywood or heavy cardboard
material for shipment to the various second stage manufacturers.
It was soon known by the name cutaway van chassis in recognition
of this feature.
Wayne had also been experimenting with an expanded
"cutaway" van chassis with dual rear wheels. As a light
duty vehicle, a bus body built upon the incomplete cutaway chassis
could be marketed and serviced by automobile dealers, a major
advantage in comparison to bus body products built upon a "p"
chassis such as the Papoose.
Advertisement for 1975 Wayne Busette.Wayne's initial
prototype was built on a Ford Econoline cutaway van platform
had dual rear wheels. With four rows of seats behind the driver,
it was named Busette. The overall weight was kept down by maintaining
a 63" headroom, which facilitated seating for up to 24 children,
but limited standing room for most adults. The experimental unit
was well-received. Due to differences in cutaway floor construction
of Chrysler, Ford, and GM products, Ford production was deferred
Initial Busette production began in 1973 on Chrysler's
Dodge chassis. Chevrolet and GMC brand-names were added the following
year. A makeshift arrangement with the right side cab door provided
entrance on basic models. However, soon a more conventional school
bus door and step well was added as an option.
Busette proved to be a very popular Wayne product.
School bus versions of the Busette were widely accepted by Head
Start and Special Education programs. The dual-rear wheels design
was favorable when compared to 4 wheel van-based school buses
due to greater stability. The low headroom made the small school
bus seem less big to drivers transitioning from smaller passenger
In 1975, a higher headroom version for adult transportation
was developed called Transette. Essentially it was a Busette
with higher headroom, the a walk-in door, nicer seats, fancier
and larger side windows, standee windows, and air conditioning.
The prototype was introduced to the dealer organization in the
fall of 1975 at the Annual Wayne Dealer Sales Meeting, held that
year at Richmond, Indiana. Dealers were very enthusiastic about
the new Transette product. In early 1976, the prototype Transette
was introduced on a nationwide tour, and orders began rolling
in. One market for which the Transette proved exceptionally well-suited
was car rental shuttles at airports. Within a single year, Wayne
Transette minibuses became the primary small shuttle vehicle
for all the major rental car companies: Hertz, Avis, National,
Budget, and Dollar rent-a-car organizations each had many units
at or near most of their US airport locations.
Busette and Transette minibuses offered wheelchair
ramps and electro-hydraulic lifts recently developed by accessibility
product pioneers Don Collins, a former Wayne Dealer, and founder
of Collin Industries which grew into a major small bus builder,
and Ralph Braun, a disabled man who started Braun Industries
with products developed in his garage in Winamac, Indiana. Transettes
became especially popular in small town transit and paratransit
dial-a-ride type services in the US.
The marketers were especially pleased, both with the
popularity of Busette and Transette, and that none of the other
five competing school bus manufacturers developed a product based
upon the cutaway chassis until the Thomas Minotour appeared in
Lifeguard design: a quantum leap in structural safety.
A weak point and location of structural failure in catastrophic
school bus crashes was well-known to be joints, the points were
panels and pieces were fastened together. Longitudinal steel
guard rails had been in use since the 1930s to protect the sides
of buses, but behind them on the sides and on the roofs, all
manufacturers were combining many individual panels to construct
a bus body.
Around 1967, safety engineers at Ward Body Company
of Conway, Arkansas had subjected one of their school bus bodies
to a multiple roll test, and noted the separation at the joints.
Ward noted that many of their competitors were using far less
rivets. This resulted in new attention by all the body companies
to the number and quality of fasteners.
Simply increasing the number of fasteners (rivets,
screws, and huckbolts) was not enough to satisfy Wayne engineers.
In their tests, no matter how many fasteners were used, the joints
were always the weak point under high stress loads. They also
noted how the continuous guard rails used on the sides tended
to spread the stress from a point of impact, allowing it to be
shared and dissipated at portions of the body structure further
Instead of trying to figure out how to make the fasteners
do a better job, they stood back and wondered of the design features
of the guard rails could be expanded. The result was a revolutionary
new design in school bus construction: Continuous longitudinal
interior and exterior panels for the sides and roofs.
Branded the Lifeguard, the new school bus design used
Wayne's huge roll-forming presses to make single steel pieces
which extended the entire length of the bus body. The concept
was that by reducing the number of joints, the number of places
where the body could be anticipated to separate in a catastrophic
impact was reduced in a like amount.
The "Lifeguard" design reduced overall body
weight, the number of fasteners used, and man-hours required
for assembly. However, it required the very large roll-form presses
and special equipment to handle the panels. A more practical
problem was the panels had to be cut to exact length for each
bus body order, which varied with seating capacities and from
state-to-state. This created a marketing disadvantage as the
Wayne factory required greater manufacturing lead time than when
parts were more interchangeable between orders under older panel
Shortly after Lifeguard was introduced, Wayne held
a nationwide contest soliciting ideas to improve school bus safety,
with a new Lifeguard school bus as the grand prize. The winning
entry was submitted by a school bus driver in Goochland County,
Virginia, whose district received the new school bus. Her idea
was to install sound baffles in the ceiling of school bus bodies
to help reduce driver distraction. Compact forms of such equipment
were later developed used by Wayne and other school bus manufacturers
when diesel engines (and their greater noise) became commonplace
in the 1980s.
Benefits of Lifeguard design proved. The benefits
of the Lifeguard design were proved in several potentially catastrophic
collisions. For example, in 1982, at Petersburg, Virginia, a
1973 model Wayne Lifeguard school bus transporting 41 elementary
school children was struck broad-side at an intersection by a
fire truck which had gone through a red traffic signal without
stopping while responding to an alarm.
The school bus was rocked violently, but after the
fire truck literally bounced off of it (rather than penetrating
the body), the driver was able to regain control and bring it
to a safe stop. The fire truck was spun 180' and its front was
demolished. All 3 firefighters were hospitalized. The bus driver
and all children were transported to the hospital as well. One
child on the bus had suffered a broken arm; the rest were mostly
scared but uninjured.
Later examination of the school bus revealed that
the impact of the massive fire truck had failed to overcome the
great strength of the Wayne Lifeguard construction and the guard
rails. Investigators were amazed to discover that despite a bulge
of several inches on the longitudinal interior panel, there had
been no all-the way through penetration of the passenger compartment
whatsoever, no joint separation, and no sharp edges created.
Instead, they found the substantial impact stress had been shared
over a widespread area along the entire structure of the passenger
compartment "box", protecting the occupants as intended
by the design.
In the years after Wayne introduced the Lifeguard
in the 1973 model year, competing body manufacturers began also
using larger panels and a lesser number of side panels and joints.
However, none had become as progressive as Wayne's use of the
full-length panels when the focus on structural integrity resulted
in the joint requirements of the all-important U.S. Federal Motor
Vehicle Safety Standards for school buses, most of which became
applicable on April 1, 1977. After that date, most manufacturers
including Wayne added sepcial structural adhesives to other fasteners
at body joints.
Indian Head and Thyssen. In 1973, Indian Head established
a joint business venture with Thyssen-Bornemisza Group N.V.,
a Dutch holding company. That year, Indian Head sold off its
pantyhose. cotton yarn and commission finishing divisions. The
next year, it acquired Tri-Wall Containers, leading international
manufacturer of heavy-duty shipping containers.
In 1975, the rest of Indian Head Industries was sold
and folded into Thyssen-Bornemisza, a conglomerate based in Monaco,
and owned by one man: Baron Hans Heinrich (Heini) Thyssen-Bornemisza.
The Baron was a very wealthy and controversial figure who died
in 2002. His art collection is his legacy, one of the most valuable
in the world.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza Years 1975-1984. It seems that
most of what one can learn about Indian Head after the Thyssen-Bornemisza
acquisition is very limited. As a privately-owned entity, there
were no requirements for annual reports or public filings. However,
what can be found seem to indicate that Thyssen spent much of
the next 8-10 years selling off or closing its North American
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the portions of
Thyssen-Bornemisza which formed the Wayne Corporation went through
a period of decline.
In 1982, Thyssen sold its Textile Specialties Group
to Hanson Trust, an English holding company which had established
a group of companies called Hanson Industries. This group was
renamed Carisbrook Industries. At time of sale, Thyssen was operating
in 274 locations in 27 countries and 29 U.S. States.
Wayne Professional Cars: RIP. The professional car
industry was negatively and profoundly impacted by three factors
in the late 1970s. Many units served as both ambulances and funeral
vehicles, called "combinations." Combinations disappeared
from general service in the late 1970s, when a downsized Cadillac
commercial chassis appeared at the same time as changes in the
federal ambulance regulations governing minimum width, headroom
and equipment levels generally required larger vehicles.
The downsizing of America's biggest luxury cars, beginning
with the 1977 model year, forced major changes upon professional
car builders, who were dependent upon car frames purchased from
General Motors and Ford Motor Company to begin their conversion
Ambulance service in many areas had often been rendered
by the proprietors of funeral homes, and professional (combination)
cars were often equipped for dual use. Despite high visibility,
this activity was not a major profit center for funeral directors.
Rising insurance costs and the increased skill levels required
of ambulance personnel combined to motivate funeral home operators
to leave first the emergency medical transport business, and
eventually, the non-emergency medical transport business.
At the same time, just as the chassis they were built
upon became smaller, the higher level of services rendered by
emergency medical services (EMS) personnel at the pre-hospital
level required more space and equipment than was available in
professional cars. Fortunately for patients, this came at the
very time that extended wheelbase vans and cutaway-type vehicles
became more readily available. By the late 1970s, government
standards and practical necessities were combining to make professional
car based ambulances unsuitable for virtually all EMS transport
Some professional car builders made the transition
and continued to build hearses and stretch limousines based upon
the smaller luxury car frames, but their ambulance business of
this type was gone. The skills and equipment needed to convert
vans and build modular boxes for ambulances were significantly
different, and these markets were won over by other specialized
About the time of the 1979 energy crisis, Wayne's
Engineering Department experimented with creation of a stretch
conversion of the diesel-powered Volkswagen Rabbit which was
being mass-produced at VW's Westmoreland plant near New Stanton,
Pennsylvania. The vehicle would have the potential to transport
a large number of passengers (8-12) with very efficient fuel
consumption in comparison with other automobiles. However, only
one prototype was built, and the project was dropped. For potential
liability reasons, the "Rabbit stretch" which was an
unusual sight at the Richmond plant, could not be sold for highway
use and it was later destroyed.
By the late 1970s, as the situation became critical,
Wayne Corporation, the parent of M-M and C-B, and Wayne's Thyssen
owners chose not to invest heavily as would have been required
in the uncertain futures of the diverging professional car and
ambulance building industries. There were no buyers for either
subsidiary as a going business.
For 1977, the Cadillac commercial chassis was down-sized
and smaller, to reduce vehicle weight and fuel consumption. The
Cadillac Division built 1,299 of these special, lengthened units.
Wayne's Miller-Meteor subsidiary built only 21 Lifeliner Cadillac
ambulances that year. For 1978, Cadillac's commercial chassis
production further declined, to only 852 units. Miller-Meteor
received orders for only 4 ambulances. There were no 1979 Miller-Meteor
ambulances. On December 13, 1979, the company, with roots tracing
back to 1853, closed its doors.
In 1980, Cotner-Bevington ambulance product line was
sold to Gene Knisley, owner of Mid-Continent Conversion Co.,
which was an ambulance and medicar builder in Kansas City, Missouri.
The C-B plant in Blytheville, Arkansas was closed.
A few years later, the rights to the Miller-Meteor
name was acquired and resurrected by another professional car
builder in Norwalk, Ohio which in 2004 is producing a line of
funeral coaches and limousines on Cadillac and Lincoln chassis
under the Miller-Meteor brand name.
Wayne and Welles Buses. In 1975, when the ownership
of Wayne Corporation shifted to Thyssen, Wayne was one of six
major school bus body builders in the United States. It is important
to understand and review the market at this point to appreciate
some of what happened next in Wayne's history.
Wayne apparently enjoyed some profitable years in
the late 1970s, buoyed by sales of its smaller Busette and Transette
product lines. By 1980, Wayne was one of the big six school bus
body manufacturing companies in the United States, competing
with Blue Bird Body Company, Carpenter Body Company, Superior
Coach Company, Thomas Built Buses, Inc., and Ward Body Company,
as well as Gillig Bros. and Crown Coach Corporation (manufacturers
which traded primarily on the West Coast).
A downturn in North American school bus purchase volumes
began in the late 1970s as the children of the Baby Boom completed
their elementary and secondary educations. Bidding competition
for reduced volumes became devastating to profits and even liquidity.
In 1979, Ward declared bankruptcy, reorganizing as AmTran the
following year. Perhaps even more foretelling, in 1980, the Sheller-Globe
Corporation industrial conglomerate closed its huge Superior
Coach Company plant in Lima, Ohio. Sheller-Globe had reportedly
been unable to find a buyer for its large enterprise.
Although not publicly-reported (as corporate ownership
under Thyssen was private), it is likely that Wayne and Welles
began reporting losses around 1980 or 1981, and these continued
into 1982. By 1983, Wayne dealers and union leaders were told
that the annual losses at Wayne/Welles were reportedly in the
millions, and the Thyssen owners were poised to end the relationship
and financial hemorrhage, by sale or shutdown.
In 1984, following significant concessions by its
unionized workers, members of United Auto Workers Local # 721
which were intended to make the company more efficient, Wayne
Corporation (and its Canadian subsidiary, Welles, Ltd.) were
sold by Thyssen to new owners.
Wayne Corporation: Richmond Transportation Corporation
1985-1992. A new logo was adopted for Wayne Corporation in the
mid 1990s.In late 1984, Richmond Transportation Corporation (RTC)
was formed by Jack M. Dekruif, a Long Beach, California-based
industrialist, and several officers who had served at Wayne for
many years under the Indian Head and Thyssen ownership. RTC acquired
Wayne Corporation and its Welles subsidiary in Canada in February,
1985. Terry G. Whitesell was named President of RTC. A civic
leader in Richmond, Indiana, his prior responsibilities at Wayne
included sales, marketing, and purchasing over a period of more
than 15 years. Whitesell was well-known within the company, its
dealer and supplier networks, and the industry.
Although as industrialist investor, Dekruif had a
track record of liquidating troubled businesses, he was persuaded
to allow the new organization to operate and compete. Several
successful years followed. The Chaperone and Chaperone II products
on cutaway van chassis did well, and several Wayne dealer-contractors
were expanding, most notably Laidlaw. In the fall of 1986, the
company was preparing to launch an initial public stock offering
(IPO) when "Black Friday" struck the stock market that
October, forcing cancellation of the IPO.
The company's economic fortunes also seemed to go
downhill from that point. School bus contractor Laidlaw, then
an operator of 30,000 school buses in the U.S. and Canada, and
its own Wayne dealership, split its 1986 school bus body production
orders between Wayne and Amtran. In May 1987, a major fire destroyed
the Canadian (Welles) plant on Drouillard Road in Windsor, Ontario.
A bitter strike occurred at Wayne's Richmond, Indiana plant in
the spring of 1988. The strike lasted only 30 days, but several
major orders were lost. The Welles plant was replaced by a newer
facility. In conjunction with the City of Windsor, property was
bought on the former Sheller-Globe plant site on Marentette Street.
Lifestar: Wayne's hope for the future. By the late
1980s, the company's best hopes lay in its newest product, a
transit-style (type D) school bus named the Lifestar. Like its
older sister the Lifeguard, it featured the continuous longitudinal
interior and exterior panels for the sides and roofs.
Until 1973. Wayne had built a rear-engined model (on
a Chevrolet chassis that year), but after that time, production
of transit-style models had been limited to military and GSA
(federal government) orders. These were comparatively expensive,
special order units.
Lifestar was to be targeted for the school bus market.
Wayne did not have the manufacturing equipment or capacity to
build chassis in-house. Therefore, identification of an appropriate
chassis from an outside supplier to meet engineering, volume,
and cost considerations was essential to the project, and future
Rear engine design. The company developed but did
not place into production a rear-engine transit prototype program
which was built at the Welles plant in Canada, where many Wayne
experimental projects had been done over the years. A rear-engine
model would have been more costly than one with a front engine,
and less likely to achieve volume production. Competitors in
that market were the Blue Bird All-American RE and the Thomas
Safet-T-Liner, each a premium product with an in-house chassis
produced for their respective manufacturers.
Front engine design A front-engine transit program
for Lifestar was more successful than rear-engine development
efforts, and eventually saw production with the Chevrolet/GM
S-7 chassis, the International 3900 chassis, and the Asia Motors
chassis imported from Korea by Asia-Smith.
The initial production of Wayne Lifestar's were of
a front engine (FE)design. At first. the product was totally
dependent upon the S-7 chassis developed by General Motors, and
offered through Chevrolet and GMC dealers. One of the larger
Wayne Dealers, Milt Smith of Bus and Bodies of Plaistow, New
Hampshire, imported some chassis for Lifestar bodies branded
"Asia-Smith" which had been assembled in Korea with
U.S. manufactured components. The Asia-Smith chassis were not
received well in U.S. markets and many sat at the Indiana plant
for an extended time awaiting body orders. The S-7 chassis were
not initially available in large numbers, and after no other
body companies indicated that they would also produce bodies
In 1989, Wayne suffered an additional setback in when
General Motors announced discontinuation of the S-7 product line.
Shortly later, GM exited the retail portion of conventional school
bus chassis business as well, discontinuing its B-6 product line,
except for a private label arrangement worked out with Blue Bird
to produce gasoline-powered chassis solely for Blue Bird bodies.
In late 1989, Navistar International introduced a
chassis which could be used for a Lifestar body. Wayne Lifestar
production on the International 3900 chassis began in 1990 and
continued until 1992.
Ruinous chassis competition. Other body companies
also expressed interest, and AmTran (formerly Ward Body Company)
developed a product based upon it, the Ward Senator. However,
AmTran was also working on a rear-engined model using the 3900
components to be fully assembled at its Conway, Arkansas plant
utilizing Navistar mechanical components. That concept promised
substantially lower costs than chassis assembled at the Navistar
plant at Springfield, Ohio, and in comparison, would put the
Wayne Lifestar with the Springfield chassis at a significant
price bidding disadvantage in the marketplace.
Competition: overcapacity for bodies, lack of in-house
chassis. For the 1989 model year, competitor Blue Bird introduced
its TC-2000, a transit model much less costly than its famous
All-American, which had always been marketed as a premium product
offered with ront engine and rear engine models. By middle of
the 1990 model year, the TC-2000 product alone was projected
to capture a full 10% of U.S. school bus market by AmTran officials.
Wayne continued to struggle for market share in 1990.
In April, it was announced that the Welles plant in Canada would
close in mid-June of 1990.
In early 1991, Navistar International Corporation,
manufacturer of the International brand school bus chassis announced
that it had purchased a one third interest in American Transportation
Company (AmTran), the manufacturer of Ward school bus bodies,
and one of Wayne's long-time competitors.
This was seen by many industry observers as an ominous
sign for Wayne's future, as Navistar was its largest supplier
of both conventional (Lifeguard) and transit (Lifestar) chassis.
Wayne had no major alliance to guarantee a source of chassis,
nor any in-house capacity to do so.
The following year, Richmond Transportation Corporation
(RTC) was forced to declare bankruptcy in August, 1992. Assets
were sold by a federal bankruptcy judge at auction that fall.
Postscript: Wayne designed products, legacy. Superior
by Mid-Bus. Several small companies rose from the end of school
bus production by industrial conglomerate Sheller-Globe's Superior
Coach Company in Lima, Ohio. In 1981, Mid Bus was formed by 3
former Superior employees, and along with 7 co-workers, they
began manufacturing small school buses nearby. About 10 years
later, Wayne Corporation decided to discontinue Busette production,
which had moved to the Welles plant in Canada, in favor of its
newer Chaperone. An arrangement was made with Mid-Bus to resume
production of the Busette, which was still a favorite of Head
Start agencies into the 1990s. The Busette production helped
Mid-Bus gain expertise with cutaway chassis for school bus applications.
Wayne Wheeled Vehicles. After the bankruptcy in 1992,
Wayne's other product rights and many assets (but notably not
the corporation and subsidiaries themselves with pensions and
other liabilities) were purchased at liquidation auction by BMY,
a military truck assembler owned by steel giant Harsco Corporation.
BMY management had been looking for a secondary product line
to fill in slow periods between military truck orders. Several
Wayne products were produced and sold for a brief time between
1993 and 1995 under the brand name Wayne Wheeled Vehicles (WWV)
at the BMY plant in Marysville, Ohio. However, between several
lost bids for more military trucks and questionable profitability
of the WWV production, BMY shut down completely and closed the
Marysville plant in 1995.
Crown by Carpenter. In the early 1990s, Carpenter
Industries (formerly Carpenter Body Company) of Mitchell, Indiana
purchased the tooling and product rights to build Crown coaches,
long a product of a defunct U.S. bus builder in California. Around
1995, Carpenter leased the former Wayne plant at Richmond, and
moved from its aged facilities in Mitchell, Indiana. At the former
Wayne plant, they began producing Crown by Carpenter buses and
delivery trucks. Carpenter had been struggling for almost 20
years when it too finally ended school bus production in 2000.
Future of the Plant. The former Wayne Corporation
plant, after standing idle for a number of years, was purchased
by a group of investors in 2005 with the intention of using the
plant and surrounding property for a business park. The investors
intended to use the large plant to house a number of smaller
companies, rather than looking for a single, large corporation.
At the end of 2006, the property along Interstate 70 was becoming
reutilized for a number of retail and industrial enterprises.
Included was construction of new retail businesses such as restaurants
and service stations near the busy Interstate highway exit which
had been known for over 25 years for the massive bus factory
and acres of yellow school buses and chassis of Wayne Corporation.